Karkloof Festival – put it on your bucket list

A long, long time ago, like 142 years ago writes Kathryn Fourie, a man named John Goodman Houshold stepped off a 300m high ridge in the Karkloof of KwaZulu Natal. John was not a foolish man, as when he leaped off that precipice in 1871, he was attached to one of the first gliders the world had ever seen.

John flew somewhere between 500m and 1km, and completely psyched after his triumphant flight, he went on to attempt a second which was successful – bar clipping a tree and him winding up with a broken leg. Unable to hide the buggered limb from his mother, John had to resign his glider to the shed of doom where it was eventually burned with other household rubbish. His mother was extremely worried that John had incurred the wrath of God for ‘challenging his natural state of being earth bound’. Additionally, John’s mates down at the Howick local thought he was ‘utterly and irresponsibly mad’.

Fast forward to 2014, and I know why John did what he did. He spited damnation and the unknown to pursue what he really wanted to achieve, and there’s something in that Karkloof air, a special mineral in the water, a silent pulse in the life of a day out there that you can’t ignore. And that, guys, is why you should get your two-wheeled machines out to the forests to experience the Sappi Karkloof MTB Festival. Sure the riding is pretty much phenomenal, but it’s John Goodman Houshold and the Stone Age tool discoveries, the druid standing stones and magical waterfalls, the tales of cave dwellers and leopards; that’s something you don’t get fuelling your legs and mind every day. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it’s sort of like riding through Narnia…

You’ll be as happy as Larry post the Karkloof MTB Festival
You’ll be as happy as Larry post the Karkloof MTB Festival

The Sappi Karkloof Classic is one of those races that people travel from all over the country to attend, and its popularity is such that a number of events now make up the full weekend festival. Starting on Friday, the Sappi Karkloof Night Race is an awesome way to get the legs warmed up for the weekend away, seeing the forests in a whole new dimension of shadows and crisp air. The gruelling Sappi 60km Classic is well supported, taking riders right outback to the heights of Lebanon and big mountain riding, while the fast paced aQuellé 40km half marathon is still seen as the event of choice for many weekend warriors. The aQuellé 20km and 10km routes are a favourite of families, kids and new riders; while the last two years have seen the new Stihl Enduro race format become ever more popular.

I guess one of the main differences with the Sappi Karkloof MTB Festival and other races, is that it offers up tasty packaged snacks of trails that exist there all year long. The races are pretty much an extension of the network of trails that have been developed over the past twenty years, with a huge amount of love, support, blood, sweat and tears from the Turvey family. Young Hylton Turvey’s name is often bandied about mountain biking circles these days, synonymous with tidy, progressive trails, flow, berms, excellent use of natural features and a penchant for building things that let you score air miles should you wish to. Funny that, John Goodman Houshold indeed…

Anyway, if the existing trails themselves weren’t enough to get you over the price of petrol and that sort-of-friends birthday party you’ve been invited to on the 10th and 11th of May, perhaps the fact that a brand-spanking new 40km route has been designed and built for the event may do the job. Trust me, I’ve seen the lime green route on Google Maps, and I know every dork who misses the race will be kicking themselves because it is not going to be a formally marked trail after the race. Huge stretches of unridden, virgin single track, freshly cut and pulsing with the Karkloof energy are waiting for the turn of your wheels. You are who you really are when you’re shredding KK on your bike, ne?

Experience “trails for days” go to www.karkloofmtb.co.za
Experience “trails for days” go to www.karkloofmtb.co.za

And if the 40 and 60 are not really your thing, the STIHL Karkloof Enduro is going to do two things: 1. Make you wish you were fitter; and 2. put the fattest smile on your dial ever. With a whole new section exiting Bat Out of Hell, and the lengthy stretches of Jewitts Jive and Rene’s Rumble to reward you for the climbing, the STIHL Karkloof Enduro is probably one of the most true-to-form Enduro formats in South Africa. There’s no need to squish trails into limited space out in the Sappi Plantations, here the saying ‘trails for days’ is taken literally, not figuratively. Or as Sappi has coined it “You have the pace to go all the way. We have the space to take you there.”

And when you’re done with riding, and your legs can’t possibly turn another revolution; cool off in the Karkloof River, chill with a few beers by the Falls (okay, not that close to the Falls, a responsible distance from the Falls) or take a trip into Howick to munch the famous Corner Post burgers and spy on the locals as the night closes in.

You know, I guess that’s it. Some races are races, and others are game changers. The Sappi Karkloof MTB Festival is a really good way to cut your teeth on the style of trail tucked into this corner of the KZN Midlands, and it’s guaranteed to have you checking your calendar for gaps to get down to us again soon. You’re going to want to ride the trails again, you’re going to want to ride them faster and stronger, and hit the features better than you did on race day. Man, I feel like I’m peddling crack.

Come ride with us, do the race, come back for more. Jump off the ridge, fly your craft, pay tribute to the wild minds that have lived here, that still live here. Hell, you can even have your picture taken next to the John Goodman Houshold memorial and stick it on Facebook; Derek Turvey says “Squire, I’ll take the picture myself!”

Sus the Karkloof:

The Sappi Karkloof MTB Festival

9 – 11 May, 2014

Enter online at www.roag.co.za

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